Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present

A report by Emily Bell, CW Anderson, and Clay Shirky has just been released

Today we publish our report, “Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present” from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School. We hope you will read it and let us know what you think.

The report came out of conversations provoked by Columbia j-school Dean Nicholas Lemann and builds on the work we have done in previous reports. One of these previous reports, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” penned in 2009 by Len Downie and Michael Schudson, set out a case for finding extra support and subsidies for US news. In 2011 Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave, and Lucas Graves wrote a second study, “The Story So Far: What We know About the Business of Digital Journalism.” It took a thorough look at prevailing business models and echoed Downie and Schudson in predicting that digital revenues would continue to be far smaller than those previously enjoyed by news organizations.

This latest report deals far less with the questions of “funding” and “business models” than the previous two. Instead we have concluded that, no matter what model of subsidy the American journalism industry adopts, it will be unable to replicate the money generated by the mass-advertising subsidy of previous decades. Instead, given that industry restructuring is a forced move, we have tried to understand how media organizations both old and new can take advantage of new opportunities to do good journalism in new ways. This involves changing the process by which journalism is produced as much as it does finding a new business model. Indeed, we called the new report “Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present,” because one obvious but not often noted aspect of news is that while its production is still referred to in industrial terms, the field is no longer an industry. Where newsroom composition, editorial process, professional identity, source of revenue, and end product were once uniform and predictable, this is no longer the case.

The report is divided into several sections focusing on a few main themes. We argue (1) for greater specialization in skills for journalists, both in terms of specialized knowledge and craft, (2) for the support and creation of new institutions which can match the leverage of the old, and (3) for collaboration across institutions and between individuals to be the journalistic rule rather than the exception. We see the vital role of news institutions as supporting the efforts of individual journalists rather than the other way round. Most importantly, we see a need for a continuing profession of highly skilled individuals who can work in a data-rich world of crowds and algorithms to find and tell the world important things they would not otherwise know.

It is our hope that this report helps to further stimulate a conversation we know is already going on: in editorial meetings, in newspaper business offices, on Twitter, in too many “future of news” conferences to count, and in new locales like Silicon Valley and on Capitol Hill. We hope that it both draws already existing conversations together in new ways, and gives everyone something new to think—and talk—about.

CW Anderson, Emily Bell, Clay Shirky

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Emily Bell is Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.